Post-Photorealism and The End of High Definition

Before I continue my ultra-intellectual sounding post, watch this video of the Ferrari 548, pre-rendered in the video game Gran Turismo 5 for the PS3.

It's beautiful stuff.

Ask yourself this (not out loud, please) - If that video was actually real footage of a real Ferrari, would you be as impressed? I doubt it. The wonderment that videos like this cause comes from the fact that we know it isn't real, and that it looks real. That's where the 'cool' factor is. If that video looked so much like a real video that we couldn't tell the difference, our interest wouldn't be nearly as piqued. It's just boring old reality.

That being said, what is the goal of modern CGI and what will happen when that goal is reached. If the goal is to emulate reality as much as possible so that we can no longer tell the difference, then it's not worth the effort. If we can't tell the difference, nobody cares. The same question could be asked of the HD indudtry. what's their endgame. A picture so sharp it mirrors the quality of human vision? What happens when that goal is reached? Is that the end of innovation for graphics and high definition. You can't make a picture look more real than our eyes can comprehend. Is there even such a concept of something being higher definition than eyesight?

I walked into a Best Buy once, and I walked over to the TV and Entertainment System section. They were displaying an HDTV at the time (This was when 1080p and BluRay/HDDVD was just becoming big), and I started watching. They were showing a BluRay movie of some nature scene, with water and sunset and boats and other pretty things. I kept thinking to myself that this actually looks better than it does in real life. I was captivated by it because it was showing me vision that my eyes alone would likely never experience. I couldn't tell you why, but that was what it felt like. Even though it was real, the super sharp picture made it look so real as to be fake. Reality is not the goal of High Definition. The goal is to make reality look more enticing than it actually is. So there is a place for HD to go after it mirrors reality. It can make the most real reality a mesmerizing fiction.

The same thing can be said for CGI. Looking at that Ferrari, understand that there are no scratches on the car. There are no nicks, no tire wear, no garbage in the front seat. There are no bird poop stains, and all the lighting is perfect. This is the flaw that CGI will always suffer from. It always looks too perfect. Even defects look too good. In the real world, damage and defects are natural, random, and persistent. There is no pattern and no sense to it, it just happens. Replicating that quasi-randomness on a computer is a near impossible feat. It's ironic, but the real challenge in CGI is not making photo-realistic worlds, but making the random wear and tear of reality into a mathematical construct that can be portrayed graphically. It's not about lighting effects, anti-aliasing, resolution, or action blur. Physics is easy. Physics is just math. It's about transforming the bland, uninteresting parts of life into concrete numbers.  We will never believe a car is real until a bird can realistically defecate on it. Then I'll be convinced.

I remember when Pixar released Toy Story, the first fully CGI animated feature film, and it was amazing. Everything looked so lifelike and real, it made the story better somehow. The symbolism is no coincidence either: The story of fake toys "coming to life" was very similar to the idea of making a fictional world "come to life" with CGI. Nobody wants to see reality in CGI. That would defeat the purpose. CGI enables an artist to make fantasy and fiction look real enough that we can have a suspension of disbelief long enough that we can identify with the story being told. Buzz Lightyear may have looked like a real toy come to life, but I never wanted to think "Wow, that's a real toy!"

I don't know if there's a conclusion to this post, but I do know this. The closer we get to emulating reality on a computer, the more exciting it will be. That is, until we actually achieve that goal. Then we won't be able to tell the difference anyways. My brain hurts.

1 comment:

Benjamin said...

I like nuts.

It doesn't really have anything to do with your post... but hey, at least nuts are real.

Not those kinda nuts, you sicko.

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